BlogViewsIndoor Mobile Coverage: the changing market landscape

Indoor Mobile Coverage: the changing market landscape

Indoor Mobile Coverage - Mobile Signal Checker Custom Assessments and Solutions for Different Stakeholders Specific Connectivity needs
Indoor Mobile Coverage – Mobile Signal Checker Custom Assessments and Solutions for Different Stakeholders Specific Connectivity needs

We as Teragence provide granular, geo-located signal strength data across operators and technologies. Our standard Signal Checker product delivers data on outdoor coverage, but we are increasingly working around indoor mobile coverage as well.

That’s why our CEO, Christian Rouffaert, recently attended the Indoor Wireless Stakeholders Workshop organised by Dean Bubley of Disruptive Analysis and Andrew Collinson of Connective Insight.

The workshop brought together a variety of industry players and provoked some interesting debates. In this blog post Christian will bring together some observations and learnings from that day, in no particular order:

Indoor wireless connectivity is becoming more important

The demand for indoor wireless coverage is not only driven by people’s standard wireless requirements, i.e. need for people to access their “standard”, general purpose apps. The past few years have seen a rapid rise in apps and applications with specific indoor use cases: think of the QR code scanners to access menus and/or order food or drinks, app-based boarding passes or tablet-based medical records apps, as well as the slow but inevitable rise of AR and VR applications (e.g. Apple’s Wireless Pro). These applications are mainly used indoor, making the need for quality indoor wireless connectivity more pressing. And with this, in turn grows the number of stakeholders with an interest in indoor mobile coverage. From venue owners, to tenants and service providers to app publishers.

Delivering indoor cellular coverage is becoming harder

The dominant delivery model for cellular connectivity in the Northern Hemisphere and/or the Western world is “outside in”, i.e. base stations are located outside and deliver their signal from outside into the buildings. Note that this is not the case everywhere. In the Gulf and parts of Asia the majority of public spaces is indoor: shopping malls, hotels, etc.. and here indoor connectivity is delivered “inside-in”. But coming back to the Northern Hemsiphere “outside-in” delivery model – this is coming under pressure due to two converging trends:

  1. the move up the spectrum ladder: as the demand for wireless bandwidth grows, it is delivered from ever higher spectrum bands, but these have more difficulty penetrating “standard” solid surfaces such as brick.
  2. the increasing energy efficiency requirements for new buildings. This drives the use of building materials which are even less permeable for radio signals. For example, the latest generation of glazing used in high-rise buildings is hyper-thermally efficient. This is achieved by coating them in a metallic layer which is not very “radio friendly”.

These two converging trends make it much more difficult to deliver indoor mobile coverage within the traditional “outside-in” paradigm in newly constructed buildings. And it is these new buildings which are often marketed as “premium” and therefore have the highest indoor connectivity requirements.

Indoor wireless coverage involves a wider range of stakeholders

We already mentioned the growing range of indoor coverage stakeholders – from owners and landlords to tenants and app developers and users. Whereas these demand-side stakeholders would normally face off to a limited number of supply-side stakeholders (i.e. the mobile network operators), this is no longer the case. The supply side the ecosystem has been rapidly expanding and now includes:

  • Mobile network operators (MNO’s).
  • Indoor cellular specialists such as DAS and neutral host operators.
  • Suppliers of alternative wireless solutions such as wi-fi.
  • Fiber operators who provide connectivity into the buildings and are looking to expand their service portfolio and “share of wallet” of their business customers.
  • Building owners who are simultaneously on the demand side and supply side : they’d like to get good mobile coverage as it increases the desirability of their asset. At the same time they control access to the building and can ask the service providers to pay for the privilege to serve (and generate revenue from) their tenants.
  • Tenants who like to get good indoor connectivity and are increasing making indoor connectivity quality part of their office selection process.

In this tangle it becomes unclear who should pay or who should talk to whom to get which problem solved. Add the fact that the different stakeholders have very different outlooks, mindframes and cultures and you have the potential for an almighty tower of Babel. One of the more interesting anecdotes I learned at a session was that Proptivity, a Scandinavian indoor mobile coverage provider sells its services to building owners on a per square meter basis, thereby bridging between the mindframe of property and telecoms.

Delivering indoor wireless connectivity means navigating a wide array of technology options

When it comes to solving the problem of indoor wireless connectivity, the burden of resolution is often placed on the building owners/operators (and not, interestingly enough the MNO’s). And landlords are rarely wireless experts. But they now need to decide whether to install a DAS (Distributed Antenna System) , Neutral Host, repeater or wifi network (or any combination of the above). They find themselves having to immerse themselves in the details of throughput, coverage, mobility and handover characteristics of the different technologies.

This is not an easy choice to make for telecom specialists (the discussions at the workshop among experts on the exact capabilities of each technology solution illustrated exactly that point), let alone for non-specialists such as building owners and landlords. Our observation is that there is a definite space in the market for an honest broker/adviser to help guide the buyers to the most optimal solution.

Teragence’s role in the indoor wireless ecosystem

While indoor mobile and wireless connectivity is becoming more important, the MNO’s ability to deliver it in the traditional “outside-in” way is shrinking. A wide range of alternative technology options is emerging as well as a whole new ecosystem of stakeholder.

Teragence uses its crowdsourced data and geospatial analytical capability to conduct detailed desk-based surveys of the available indoor mobile connectivity of selected buildings. We are delivering these indoor mobile coverage assessments to all the stakeholders in the ecosystem from landlords and tenants to service providers. This workshop gave us a wider perspective on the issues and questions in this space and we’ like to thank Dean and Andrew for organising this event.

If you’d like to know more, please get in touch on [email protected] or use our Teragence’s contacts page.

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